April 2010 Archives

I can't decide whether yesterday's U.S. Department of Education press release on the new "partnership" between twelve foundations and ED's i3 effort is just a painful example of vapid triumphalism or whether it actually sends a worrisome signal. I'm mostly inclined to think it's much ado about nothing. After all, as Ed Week's intrepid Michele McNeil pointed out yesterday, "The new, collaborative effort is not a pooled fund of grants; each foundation will retain control over its contribution...nor is the initiative announced by the U.S. Department of Education April 29 a commitment of additional funding...The $506 ...


Tomorrow, the nation's education researchers, professors, and such will convene in Denver for the annual conference of the American Educational Research Association. If you're going to be in Denver and want to catch up, on Friday and Saturday I'll be at Marlowe's co-hosting the "School Reform Café" from 3 p.m. to 8 p.m. with my pal Van Schoales, executive director of Education Reform Now (the non-political counterpart to Democrats for Education Reform). We're expecting pop-ins from an illustrious list of friends like Patrick Wolf, Mark Schneider, Susanna Loeb, Adam Gamoran, Laura LoGerfo, Jeff Henig, Richard Ingersoll, Jal Mehta, ...


Some readers challenged me last week on an intriguing question: Why did I react so differently to the underwhelming findings on the performance of Milwaukee voucher students and to the Ravenswood City school board's effort to shutter the Stanford Graduate School of Education's charter school for mediocre performance? As you may recall, I casually brushed off the Milwaukee voucher results as telling us nothing important but suggested that the performance of Stanford New School raises real questions about the "expertise" of Stanford's big-name pedagogues. A few eagle-eyed commenters asked if this isn't a case of double standards or even blatant ...


Yesterday, I discussed the recent Ed Next forum between Kati Haycock and Rick Hanushek, noting that I agree with Haycock's focus on sensible strategies to get more good teachers into high-poverty schools but that I worry about the casual heavy-handedness with which some advocates tackle the issue. In particular, I suggested that reflexive efforts to shift "effective" teachers from high-performing schools and classrooms to others--such as attempts potentially countenanced in some language proposed for NCLB reauthorization--may actually reduce the pool of effective teachers. This would turn strip mining from an effort to redistribute the pie into a strategy that would ...


In a new forum in the quarterly journal Education Next, Education Trust honcho Kati Haycock and Stanford economist Rick Hanushek address the issue of whether and how to more "equitably" distribute teachers (full disclosure: I'm an executive editor of Ed Next). With characteristic passion, Haycock calls for efforts to focus on attracting good teachers to high-poverty, low-performing schools. I strongly support what Haycock has to say in the exchange, but I worry about the possibility that some of her allies may take her suggestions too far. In Ed Next, Haycock argues, "We know it is possible to bring high-quality teachers ...


Even as Secretary of Education Arne Duncan shills for Senator Tom Harkin's pander-ific, NEA-endorsed $23 billion "Keep Our Educators Working Act of 2010," the costs of his earlier efforts to curry NEA support are accumulating. His support for Harkin's no-strings-attached cash shower is trivializing the relatively puny $3.4 billion he's got left to dole out in round two of Race to the Top (RTT). Meanwhile, there is growing evidence that his earlier efforts to cultivate union support by spotlighting his commitment to buy-in have emboldened state and local unions. On Wednesday, the Indiana State Teachers Association (ISTA) declined state ...


Even as our earnest Secretary of Education Arne Duncan enthusiastically embraces Senator Tom Harkin's pander-refic $23 billion "Keep Our Educators Working Act of 2010" (don't worry, the 2011 version is sure to visit a theater near you in due course), he's insisting that this development won't compromise his credibility or effectiveness as a reformer. Me, I'm skeptical. There's a reason that Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny aren't usually regarded as reform-minded icons. The crux of reform is the insistence on changing the way business is done. That's much harder to do when one is proffering gifts with no strings ...


I've been meaning to do a longer postmortem on Florida's Senate Bill 6. As I've noted before, I enthusiastically supported it even though I thought it a deeply flawed bill. The flaw? Its ham-fisted attempt to strip out one set of anachronistic strictures (governing tenure and step-and-lane pay scales) only to replace it with a set of test-driven processes that were almost equally troubling. I'll get to that eventually. But in travels to Boston and Houston yesterday, I had occasion to reflect on the often incautious faith in value-added assessment that underlies many efforts to rethink teacher evaluation and pay. ...


In my recent book Education Unbound, I argue that a big problem with "best practices"-style reform is that good ideas often don't play out as intended. Even pedigreed ideas that are cooked up by big-brained professors and prove successful at hand-picked pilot sites often fail to deliver at scale. Most involved in K-12 schooling, of course, are much more enamored of expertise than I. Those in schools of education, in particular, are generally confident that they can identify the right recipes for professional development, instruction, and curricula--and aren't shy about urging those on policymakers and educators. This is what ...


This morning, I hit on the week's first big win for the teachers unions: Florida Governor Charlie Crist vetoing an important teacher pay bill. The week's second big win for the unions was our earnest Secretary of Education's craven decision to curry favor with Senator Tom Harkin and the "Deficits? I don't care about no stinkin' deficits" crowd by endorsing Harkin's $23 billion scheme to ladle out new, borrowed dollars so that our nation's educational leaders might kick the can on tough choices down the road another twelve months. Because it would be "emergency" spending, Harkin sees no need to ...


I almost titled this one "Red Letter Day for the NEA," which would have been just as apropos. This week both Florida Governor Charlie Crist and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan put on undistinguished displays of craven opportunism when, at telling moments, they wilted and opted to preen for easy applause from the cheap seats. The result: Two big wins for the NEA and two substantial setbacks for those who believe we need to rethink teacher tenure, evaluation, and pay, or those who believe K-12 schooling needs to stop beggaring bucks from the kids we're supposed to serve. The big ...


As I noted yesterday, I think my good friend Kevin Carey is mistaken in arguing that vouchers in and of themselves are a recipe for dramatically changing the incentives in education. Look, to take just one example, recognize that non-profits unable to offer discounts to families really have little or no cause to focus on squeezing down the cost of their services. Choice-based reform (vouchers, charters, what-have-you) certainly can help to profoundly change the incentives in schooling, but that depends entirely upon questions of program design, regulation, and context. It's a mistake to imagine that choice creates a self-executing change ...


The piece I penned last week on the new University of Arkansas findings on the Milwaukee voucher program has drawn a fair bit of reaction in the blogosphere. I observed that the unimpressive results from the Milwaukee voucher evaluation (touted as the most ambitious evaluation of a U.S. voucher program yet conducted) are not all that surprising and that the bleak results ought not be taken as evidence that vouchers don't "work," but as a reminder of how little attention choice proponents have devoted to creating the kinds of oxygenated ecosystems that can support dynamic markets. (For a lengthier ...


Florida Governor Charlie Crist, already desperately trying to claw his way back into the Senate GOP primary that he once dominated, has found himself in the middle of another maelstrom. Sitting on his desk, awaiting his signature or veto, is the most ambitious teacher quality legislation any state has yet contemplated. If he signs off, those teachers hired after June 30, 2010, will no longer receive tenure. Instead, they will receive a series of one-year contracts. To receive a contract after their fifth year, teachers will have to be rated "effective" or "highly effective" in two of the previous three ...


It's one thing for unions to be dominated by veteran teachers skeptical of change; it's a problem of a whole different kind when they're dominated by non-teachers and retirees. Yet, in the New York City's United Federation of Teachers (UFT) elections last week, just 40% of votes were cast by active classroom teachers. How is that possible? Read on. First off, note that less than one in three UFT members voted at all. In any election, low turnout gives an exaggerated voice to the most disgruntled and ideological. In union elections, where veterans have more at stake, low turnout also ...


The University of Arkansas School of Education, home to my good friends Patrick Wolf and Jay Greene, yesterday released new research showing that students in Milwaukee's two-decade old voucher program (the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program) "scored at similar levels as their peers not participating in the school choice program." Wolf, who has led this effort as well as the federally-endorsed evaluation of the DC voucher program, summarized, "Voucher students are showing average rates of achievement gain similar to their public school peers." Translation: when it comes to test scores, students with vouchers are performing no differently than other kids. (It ...


Yesterday, DCPS and the Washington Teachers Union announced that they had agreed upon a new contract for DC teachers. After two years of stop-and-go negotiations, punctuated by occasional rifts between outsized personalities Michelle Rhee and Randi Weingarten, they settled upon a five-year agreement (with a couple of the years retroactive). Bill Turque has reported the salient details and the Washington Post editorial page has offered an enthusiastic endorsement. A couple of thoughts on all this. First, the salaries we're talking about are really eye-popping. Starting teachers will potentially be able to earn more than $72,000, as compared to the ...


I favor a more expansive role for for-profits in schooling. Not because I think folks in for-profits are smarter or more capable than people in public agencies or non-profits (hell, I work in a non-profit!), but because for-profits have some unique and useful features. Their selfish pursuit of profit gives them cause to be more aggressive about expansion, more nimble about abandoning failed efforts and seeking new niches, and more energetic about rooting out inefficiency. Anyway, I've more to say on all this in Education Unbound. Now, believe me, I know for-profits also have their share of unique flaws, and ...


It's April, and I was just starting to muse on the approaching AERA annual conference when a wonderful note arrived reminding me that the theme of this year's AERA meeting is "Understanding Complex Ecologies in a Changing World" (nope, I don't have any idea what that means either). The note announced a series of working groups to explore this topic. Personally, I'm hopeful one group will focus on explaining what the hell the theme means. Anyway, as a public service message to readers who will be in Denver for AERA (and because it's kind of amusing for everyone else), I ...


The evidentiary standards for i3 have stirred much conversation. On those standards, I've mixed feelings. On the one hand, the i3 criteria have healthfully prompted would-be applicants to think much more seriously about evaluation than has been the norm. Just in the past few weeks, I've heard from a number of outfits that have suddenly gotten religion on this question. This has the potential to weed out so many of the cruddy fly-by-night operators in the space and to foster a culture of performance. At the same time, if foundations wind up mimicking federal decisions, standards of evidence could become ...


I've been hard on Secretary Duncan and the administration, especially on the subject of Race to the Top (RTT). No two ways about it. This has prompted some in the administration to ask whether I'm just a reflexive contrarian. I don't intend to be. As I've said before, I like and respect many in the administration, count many as friends, and think they've been trying to push in the right direction. That I've been semi-scathing is in no small part a reaction to how ED has communicated its efforts and the coverage they've received. There's not much that ED can ...


The opinions expressed in Rick Hess Straight Up are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.

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